DENVER - They have arrived at this juncture in a blink of an eye. When you spend the entire postseason hammering home the notion that you absolutely, positively must not look ahead, then it can be a little bit startling when you suddenly glance up and realize you are nine innings from being sized for a World Series ring.
Obviously, many of the Red Sox veterans have been in this position before. David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, and Doug Mirabelli are the remaining members of the 2004 championship team that stomped on the St. Louis Cardinals as if they were a mound of harmless ants.
Several members of that nucleus have again played a major role in the success of this ball club. But the influx of the young guns - specifically the homegrown talent nurtured in the Red Sox farm system - has given this World Series contender a completely different complexion.
"It's a lot different than '04," concurred Youkilis, who was a utility player on that team. "The young guys are helping us win."
When 24-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury batted leadoff Saturday night and 24-year-old Dustin Pedroia manned the two-hole in the lineup, they became the first rookies in World Series history to collectively occupy those two spots.
Their production was nothing short of stunning. Together they accounted for 7 hits, 4 RBIs and 3 runs. Equally important, they supplied the meat of the lineup, Ortiz and Ramírez, with the opportunity to drive in runs.
"They were off the charts," said Colorado manager Clint Hurdle. "They're setting the table as well as you could ever want . . . we've got to find a way to slow them down."
That is a telling quote from a lifelong baseball man. Consider that in spite of a roster that includes Big Papi, Manny, the redoubtable Varitek and Mike Lowell, the Rockies manager is fretting about two kids.
Perhaps that's because neither have behaved as though they are just happy to be here. Pedroia's Little Big Man swagger has been well-documented. Ellsbury's quiet confidence is a tad more subtle, yet no less convincing. He believes he belongs here.
"It's extremely impressive what those two guys have done," said closer Jonathan Papelbon. "In my mind, you should throw their age out of the equation.
"Age means nothing to me. If you can play at this level, then you belong here. Our young guys belong here."
Papelbon is the card-carrying, self-appointed president of the Sox Youth Movement. He is only 26 and toiled in the minors with Pedroia in Portland and Pawtucket. Twenty-three-year-old Jon Lester, last night's starting pitcher, was also in Portland during the 2005 season.
The chemistry they've developed has been seasoned through disappointments, triumphs, long bus rides through tiny baseball cities, and shared dreams of making it to the bigs.
Lester's path has been far more dramatic and traumatic. A year ago, he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but last night, he was pitching for a World Series ring.
"It is a special story," said Papelbon, "but he needs to go out and focus on baseball now."
Papelbon, who has been close to untouchable in the postseason, was clearly struggling following the Red Sox' 10-5 win in Game 3, in which he pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. He looked pale and drawn in the clubhouse.
"It's the altitude, man," he said. "It's beating me up."
Asked if the thin air had caused him to suffer a migraine, which has plagued him from time to time this season, he answered, "I've got drugs for that."
The excitable closer vowed to be ready to roll last night, and brushed off any suggestions of pressure.
"C'mon," he said. "Do we look like we're under pressure here?"
No, they don't. Sometimes when you find yourself on the biggest stage, youth and inexperience is a benefit. Older players near the end of the line understand the magnitude of what's in front of them and the difficulty of getting back to this point.
The young kids happily acknowledge they don't.
"It's happened so fast," Pedroia said. "We haven't even had a chance to take it in."
"When I was in Double A I was just trying to get to Triple A," Ellsbury said. "When I was in Triple A I was just trying to get a September call-up or something."
In 2004, the only true homegrown contributing members of the championship team were Youkilis and Trot Nixon.
The roster that will try to clinch it tonight is all about the future - and a testament to the job Boston's scouting and development directors have done.
"Anytime you talk with Theo [Epstein], he'll bring that up right away," manager Terry Francona said. "Our owners give us a lot of money to go out and spend and get good players.
"But having guys come through your system is a great way to do it. And when they're able to come and contribute, and not just contribute but be pivotal players, that's a huge source of pride."
When the Red Sox season finally does end, there's a good chance that half of the remaining alums from the 2004 squad will move on.
But for the young guns from 2007, this is only the beginning.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.